PHILIPPINES: Cathedral held by extremists liberated

Marawi City after torching by Maute group and aerial bombardment of AFP
Marawi City after torching by Maute group and aerial bombardment of AFP

After more than three months in the hands of Islamist extremists, St Mary’s Cathedral in Marawi City has been retaken by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The AFP took control of the cathedral on Friday 25th August and over the next few days cleared the church of improvised explosive devices left by the radical Maute group, which seized the church on 23rd May.

The AFP released footage of the cathedral, which revealed bullet-ridden walls and fragments of destroyed icons, and other church items, scattered on the floor.

The altar was largely demolished and a beheaded figure is the only statue left standing inside the complex.

Muslim clerics have denounced the desecration of the cathedral despite threats by the terrorists to execute Muslims who criticise Islamist radicals.

AFP soldiers were also able to clear the Grand Mosque, the largest place of worship for Muslims in Marawi, which was also seized by the Maute group.

Although it was not as damaged as the Catholic cathedral, the AFP reported that the terrorists dug holes and tunnels beneath the building and made holes in the mosque’s walls to fire at government forces.

For the past three months, the military has conducted extensive bombing raids on Marawi, but has not bombed mosques out of respect for the Maranaos, the Muslim ethnic group that has lived in Marawi for centuries.

This move was exploited by the terrorists who used the mosques as bases.

“This only shows how these people do not respect any religion may it be Christian or Muslim,” said Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez Jr, chief of the West Mindanao Command of the AFP.

In an interview with ACN earlier this month, Bishop Edwin dela Peña of Marawi disclosed draft plans for reconstruction and rehabilitation work in the city.

Asked whether there were definite plans already to rebuild the cathedral, Bishop dela Peña replied, “[M]ore than the cathedral, what is more important is to restore the Christian community and its good relations with Muslims living in Marawi.”

On 8th August 2017, Aid to the Church in Need gave US$30,000 to fund the distribution of sanitary kits to 1,500 Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) coming from Marawi City.

Bishop dela Peña thanked ACN for its help but continued to plead for help from all Christians to help Diocese of Iligan and Marawi Prelature in assisting IDPs.

The bishop also expressed hopes Christians would realise that Christ is also present in the suffering of non-Christians.

He said: “When we do mission, we do not distinguish whether the people we are helping are Christians or not. And so I hope we don’t consider anymore our religious affiliation, we help because precisely the Lord is telling us there is the need, that there is your brother and sister. We help because there is a need and where there is a need, that is where God is calling us.”

The Daesh (ISIS) inspired Maute, down to 30-45 members from its original 200, still control an estimated area of 600 square meters in Marawi.

They continue to hold about 56 Christian hostages, including Marawi Prelature’s Vicar General Fr Teresito “Chito” Suganob.

Marawi is the capital of Lanao del Sur Province on the island of Mindanao.